Gov. John Bel Edwards and local leaders Monday formally announced the opening of a wider stretch of heavily traveled Interstate 10 between Highland Road and La. 73 in suburban Ascension Parish.

The $72 million expansion adds a new lane in each direction on a 6.5-mile corridor used by about 95,000 motorists per day, and an estimated 110,000 in a few years.

The work includes the replacement of two bridges on the I-10 overpass above Highland Road.

They were replaced by one large overpass that includes three, 12-foot travel lanes in each direction separated by a two-foot barrier.

Edwards said the project, which began in February 2018, used creative financing amid Louisiana's $14 billion backlog of road and bridge needs.

"I am not going to pretend we are doing all we would like to do but we are doing an awful lot with the resources we have," he said.

"Traffic congestion causes problems whether it is respect to commerce, investment, but also just qualify of life issues, safety issues."

The corridor is the site of daily slowdowns and backups during morning and evening rush hours.

It includes commuters to and from Baton Rouge from Ascension and other parishes further east as well as daily traffic headed to, from and through New Orleans.

"The widening project is going to be transformative," said East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, who is on the Nov. 3 ballot seeking her second term.

"Interstates, like I-10, serve as lifelines for state and local communities, especially as we continue to navigate the global pandemic," Broome said.

Ascension Parish President Clint Cointment said motorists who account for about $500 million in annual salaries use area highways.

"These people don't just live in Ascension. They live in East Baton Rouge. They live in Livingston. They live in Iberville."

"This is one of those projects that allow us to grow as a region, allows us to grow as a community, and I am just happy to be a part of it," Cointment said.

Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, said the newly-expanded corridor was mostly finished Oct. 17.

"The commercial opportunities and advantages offered by the completion of this project will be immense, as this is a heavily-traveled freight corridor and the main corridor used by motorists traveling between Baton Rouge and the growing suburban areas of northern Ascension Parish," Wilson said.

He said the wider interstate will provide immediate relief for motorists.

The work was financed in part with unused federal funds totaling about $40 million from other states officials here were able to garner.

Edwards said the money was originally earmarked for the Acadiana area but plans changed because of the need for traffic relief in southeast Baton Rouge.

"We knew how important this project was," he said.

Edwards said that, since he took office in 2016, the state has spent $364 million on road projects in East Baton Rouge Parish and $154 million in Ascension Parish.

The latest overhaul also included the raising of the La. 928/Bluff Road bridge by 9 inches to comply with updated federal interstate rules. 

Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.